Sunday, December 14, 2008
Let's make a list of the important things you need before walking out the door: Wallet: Check. Cellphone: Check. Keys: Check. Lip balm?
You slap your back pocket. Nope. Rummage through your bag. Nada. Search the bedside table. Negative.
This is a problem. A huge, paralyzing problem. You are a lip balm addict, after all. And you are not alone.
Countless Facebook groups are dedicated to the "crackstick" in all its varieties: ChapStick, Blistex, Burt's Bees, Carmex. Any lip lubricant that comes in a tube or a tub. There are online quizzes that measure how addicted you are to ChapStick. (Question: When you are wearing only a bathing suit, do you have ChapStick on you at all times?) And there is a self-help Web site, Lip Balm Anonymous (http://www.lipbalmanonymous.com), dedicated to helping lip balm addicts.
The thing is, lip balm isn't addictive. Not really. Nothing in these products actually drives us to be physiologically dependent on them. Nevertheless, there are steps we can take to reduce our compulsion to apply the stuff:
Use petroleum-based rather than wax-based products. "A wax-based product is not necessarily causing a problem, but it's not very good at treating a problem," says Todd Perkins, a dermatologist in the District. Instead, Perkins recommends Aquaphor, Vaseline or any petroleum-based products, which help trap moisture in the lips.
Don't lick your lips. As the weather grows colder and the air drier, we tend to lick our lips. The saliva then evaporates, leaving our lips drier and more irritated than before, Perkins says.
Be mindful of the sun. Lips burn, too, and there's more at stake than simple irritation. Lips are more prone than skin to developing serious cancers, and Perkins says skin cancer spreads more quickly on the lips than it does anywhere else. Remember to apply sunblock to both lips. (The lower lip burns more severely.)
Finally, think about whether it's the product or the behavior. Lip balm may not cause a physiological dependence, but as an addictive behavior, it's no less relevant if it leads you to make lifestyle changes, says Carl Lejuez, director of the Center for Addictions, Personality, and Emotion Research at the University of Maryland.
So, if you're arriving late to meetings because you were searching for your ChapStick, or not enjoying a movie because you forgot your Burt's Bees, you may want to do something about it. Lejuez recommends replacing the lip balm habit with another one. Every time you're compelled to apply lip balm, reach instead for, say, your water bottle. Most of us don't drink enough water anyway, and the hydration will only help your lips.
-- Julia Feldmeier